The Uncommon Valor of VPB-117 Blue Raiders
by Bill Lawson on May 30, 2016 at 10:25 AM
Presumptive Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump has made a commitment to “take care of our veterans.” Mr. Trump and the VA need to take the lead from such great organizations like “Building Homes for Heroes”. They care for our veterans, one veteran at a time. Although the scope at the VA is much larger, that should be the overriding philosophy that sets VA policy. If a request hits a case worker's desk and he does not have the authority, that case worker needs to find the proper channel to move requests towards approval. That veteran and that veteran alone should be his priority and sole concern until the issue is resolved. Adding more government forms to files is not the answer. Block grants to states and vouchers would be a good start.
There is no better place to implement this philosophy than in Raleigh, North Carolina, which is the home of Commander Sheldon Sutton. During World War ll, Commander Sutton, at that time a Lieutenant (jg), fought for our liberties and freedoms as a naval aviator. His heroics are documented on the web site “VPB-117 Blue Raiders.”
Squadron History –VPB-117 Blue Raiders
“The record is undeniable. Patrol Bombing Squadron One Hundred Seventeen (VPB-117), flying PB4Y-1 and PB4Y-2 aircraft compiled the best composite combat record of all U.S. Navy squadrons in World War II. The squadron was awarded the Harry S. Truman Presidential Unit Citation, by the Secretary of the Navy.”1 “President Franklin D. Roosevelt challenged the squadron with ‘’Good Hunting!-Franklin Roosevelt” written across the corner of the VPB-117 commissioning program which was delivered to the squadron’s first skipper , Commander E.O. Rigsbee, Jr. “ The squadron brought such a fighting spirit and combat intensity to the Western Pacific that listeners of Tokyo radio came to know VPB-117 as the “Blue Raiders.”2
A Proud History
Squadron VPB-117’s first combat was in the Tinian Islands under Admiral Halsey’s Third Fleet. The squadron flew offensive reconnaissance patrols consisting of 1,000 mile sectors as well as intermediary patrols ahead of Admiral Halsey’s forces and extended searches to as much as 1,150 nautical miles, in support of fleet operations against Formosa and Nancie Shoot. Not only did they fulfill their responsibility of detecting enemy forces trying to drive the U.S from the Philippines, they also disrupted enemy shipping and airborne opposition.3
On February 6, 1945, after the liberation of the Philippines, Squadron VPB117 shifted its operation to McGuire Field, on Mindoro Island .Their objective was to sever the enemy’s South China Sea shipping lanes to the Empire. It was here that the Blue Raiders of VPB-117 achieved their amazing record. They flew 953 missions - over 10, 000 combat hours in the South China Seas and over Indo-China. The Blue Raiders sank one hundred thirty three ships, and damaged another 240 with low level skip bombing attacks. In addition, the Blue Raiders showed their might by shooting down twenty-nine aircraft from the skies, destroying sixteen on the ground, while damaging another thirteen on both the air and ground.
In total, the Blue Raiders sank or damaged four hundred eighty four ships during 300 attacks against shore installations, while destroying or damaging over ninety–seven aircraft. President Roosevelt’s decree of “Good Hunting “had been fulfilled, but the toll in pilots KIA and MIA was staggering.4
Commander Sheldon Sutton’s Navy Multi-Engine Record
“Lieutenant (jg) Sheldon Sutton’s crew destroyed seven enemy aircraft in the air, sank two ships and made the original sighting of four major Japanese sea forces during sixteen flights from Leyte. Lieutenant Sutton, besides having the Navy multi- engine record for shooting down aircraft , has the distinction of being the only four-engine plane pilot to chase a single-engine enemy plane into a mountain , at tree top level without firing a single shot.”5
“Lt. Sutton’s experience in the Liberator brings up a point. The maneuverability of the PB4Y-1/B-24 has often been maligned by pilots of a sister service – it has been said that the plane was ‘clumsy and very tricky to fly.’ Lt. Sutton’s actions, and many other Navy Pilot’s actions, have demonstrated that the plane could be flown, ‘like a fighter’, at low altitudes. Most of the Navy plane commanders, however, had the advantage of experience before becoming patrol plane commanders (PPC). The PPC’s normally had well over 1,000 hours of flight time and a combat tour as a co- pilot , before flying as the plane commander.”6
Humility of a Hero
“The plane commander was the captain of his ship, the air group commander, and the area commander all rolled into one – he was the decision maker as to what, when and where to attack or how to defend his plane and crew.”7 Amidst Commander Sutton’s many accolades for meritorious combat service, the single biggest accomplishment that he himself is most proud of, is the safe return home of all his crew. In the same vein, when answering questions of his accomplishments he gives full credit to his crew. Upon being recognized for his heroic service, Lt. (jg) Sutton was erroneously told that he could choose between his receiving the Navy Cross ( the Navy’s highest honor)or receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) of which all of his crew would also receive. In reality Commander Sutton should have received both awards, while his whole crew should have also received the Distinguished Flying Cross. Commander Sutton chose the Distinguished Flying Cross so all of his crew members would be recognized. Could there be a valuable lesson here for all of us, perhaps? Many long, noisy wartime hours of combat flight in a PB4Y-1/B-24, along with loud noise from machine gun fire, bombings, etc. has greatly diminished Commander Sutton’s hearing. His present hearing aids do not compensate for his diminished hearing. His ability to communicate at the age of 95 is severely, negatively impacted. The VA now has programs for hearing aids available to Veterans with duty related hearing loss. He has navigated the maze of the VA paper trail only to be rebuffed. Surely we are indebted to Commander Sheldon Sutton. The VA needs to move his file off the proverbial stack and do what Commander Sutton did of all his distinguished career- the right thing!
1 VPB-117 BlueRaiders.Com